Superman for lower back pain
According to the CDC, back pain is the leading cause of disability in the U.S and results in $50 billion annually in health care and workers’ compensation costs. With exercise and proper strengthening of the back muscles and the abdominals, the muscles that support the back, the frequency of back pain can be decreased. In this country we often look for the quick fix and many get spine surgery before they have given physical therapy and adequate chance resulting in many unhappy patients. For instance, spine surgeons often quote a 98% success rate for fusion surgery. This percentage however refers to the success of the fusion process, not the reduction of pain. In fact, for workman’s comp patients, the success rate is only 29% (Surg Neurol 1998 Mar;49(3):263-7; discussion 267-8). Here is the point – do everything you can to protect your back because surgery rarely helps once you have screwed it up!
Lets talk about some of the research that has been done as it all conflicts and explore some of the possible reasons for the differences. Starting with the most disturbing study first, Hurwitz’ paper in the American Journal of Public Health showed that doing specific back exercises actually made lower back pain worse! I know exercise can help lower back pain so what this study tells me is how important it is to have a properly supervised exercise program and how important it is to very carefully choose your physical therapist. On a brighter note, a study done by Jill Hayden published in the 5/3/05 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that a supervised stretching (and exercise) program may reduce lower back pain. The best news of all comes from an 1984 study in Copenhagen done by Biering-Sorensen which shows that isometric endurance, not strength, strongly correlates with low back pain. The reason I find this good news is that it gives us a specific measurable goal (isometric endurance) in our exercise program which should help us prevent lower back pain. If you want to read abstracts of these lower back articles, and others as well, see my .
Below are some exercises and stretches you can do to keep your lower back strong, limber and well supported. The most important thing to work on is your isometric endurance in the hyperextension exercise as this has shown to help the most in reducing lower back pain. Posture can make a huge difference in preventing back strain too, make sure you posture is correct. If you have lower back pain already, you need to check with your doctor first before doing these exercises and stretches to make sure they will not aggravate your condition. If you pain is a simple muscle pull like I usually have, these stretches and exercises not only feel good but get you back to 100% fast. The morning after a tough day of beach volleyball my lower back can be so painful that it takes 30 minutes of doing these before I walk or sit without pain.
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